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U.S. Fissile Material Production Proposal Flawed; Highlights Need to Draw India Into Nuclear Restraint Regime
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For Immediate Release: May 18, 2006


Press Contact: Daryl G. Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107

(Washington, D.C.): Today, U.S. officials submitted a proposal for a multilateral ban on fissile material production for weapons purposes to the 65-nation Conference on Disarmament in Geneva and said they believed negotiations could be achieved in a year. However, the proposal does not include a system to verify compliance making it unlikely that key states will support it.

"A global fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) can be verified and negotiators should work toward that end. By opposing verification measures and parallel discussions on arms control issues of importance to other states, Washington is undermining its own proposal," said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the nonpartisan Arms Control Association. "Still, it points to the importance of halting the production of material that can be used to make nuclear weapons and the opportunity for key states to take interim steps toward the realization of a global and verifiable treaty," he added.

Ending the production of fissile material—plutonium and highly enriched uranium—for weapons purposes has been on the international arms control and nonproliferation agenda for decades. But since the late 1990s, the concept has been relegated to the diplomatic shadows as talks on a global verifiable FMCT have sputtered due to differences over negotiating priorities. In a break with longstanding U.S. policy, Washington announced its opposition to a verifiable FMCT in July 2004.

"Though flawed, the U.S. proposal for a multilateral fissile production ban highlights why Congress should not agree to renew U.S. civil nuclear trade with India until it unilaterally halts the production of fissile material or else join the United States and other nuclear-weapon states in a multilateral fissile material production cutoff," Kimball said.

In July 2005, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh agreed that India would “assume the same responsibilities and practices” as other countries with advanced nuclear capabilities in exchange for access to U.S. civil nuclear technology, which has been denied to India since it conducted its first nuclear test in 1974. New Delhi has also elected to stay outside of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. U.S. negotiators have failed to win any tangible commitments from India to halt its production of fissile material for weapons purposes.

Nevertheless, President George W. Bush has been pressing Congress to support his controversial legislative proposal to exempt India from current U.S. nuclear trade laws and the guidelines of the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group, which restrict trade with non-nuclear-weapon states, including India, that do not accept international safeguards over all their nuclear facilities. Safeguards are measures to deter or detect the diversion of civilian nuclear materials and technologies for building bombs.

Many nuclear experts and members of Congress have suggested that India should stop producing fissile material for weapons before the United States engages in full civilian nuclear trade with India in order to ensure that such assistance does not contribute to New Delhi’s bomb-making capacity. They also argue that such a move would be significant in helping curb nuclear arms competition between India, Pakistan, and China.

U.S. and Indian diplomats have tried to deflect suggestions that the deal should limit India’s bomb program, noting that as part of the civil nuclear cooperation proposal, India has declared support for negotiating an FMCT. “This pledge means nothing given that India and many other states insist on a verifiable fissile material cutoff treaty, while the United States does not," charged Kimball.

In a speech to the Conference on Disarmament yesterday, India's representative Jayant Prasad said "we believe that an FMCT should incorporate a verification mechanism in order to provide the assurance that all States party to it are complying with their obligations."

Kimball suggested another way forward: "If India and U.S. leaders are serious about curbing fissile material production and living up to their nuclear nonproliferation commitments, they should be willing to join China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Pakistan in a multilateral treaty to halt fissile material production as a first step toward a verifiable global fissile production cutoff treaty," he said.

France, Russia, the United States, and the United Kingdom have already publicly halted fissile material production for weapons, and China is understood to have stopped. These five states, along with India and Pakistan, have all acknowleged they have nuclear weapons and have tested nuclear weapons.

"Congress should not be fooled and settle for weak commitments to a fissile material production cutoff. Congress and other governments should refuse to relax nuclear trade rules with India until it halts production of fissile material for weapons purposes and urge the Bush administration to pursue a 7-nation fissile material production cutoff treaty pending completion of a verifiable, global ban," urged Kimball.

For more information please visit http://www.armscontrol.org.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies. It publishes Arms Control Today.



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